Huff: Season One
Psychiatrists are usually portrayed on television as either comic relief or as people that enjoy playing mind games with others. No series really took the time to delve into the people who choice this profession as real people. That is until Showtime came up with the concept for their series, Huff. Dr. Craig Huffstodt (Hank Azaria), better known simply as Huff to friends and family, has dedicated his life to helping others. This ethic of compassion and nurturing has served him and his patients well making Huff a very successful psychiatrist. One day something happened in his office that would send both his professional and personal life reeling, a fifteen year patient Sam Johnson (Noel Fisher) commits suicide in front of Huff. This tragic event sends Huff into a major mid-life crisis. Huff is forced to face not only the legal ramifications of the boy’s death but also the self imposed feelings of responsibility. On the home front Huff can not find peace of mind. His wife Beth (Paget Brewster) is running a catering business from home while contending with Huff’s overbearing diva mother Izzy (Blythe Danner) who lives in the apartment over the garage. The two women could not be further apart in how they view life. Where Beth is nurturing and caring Izzy is the epitome of manipulation and control. Huff is not the only one caught in the middle of these antics. Their son Byrd (Anton Yelchin) is just discovering who he is while every adult around him is losing themselves. In despair Huff turns to his best friend, lawyer Russell Tupper (Oliver Platt) but that is of little help. Russell is an amoral womanizer addicted to cocaine who is completely dependant on his assistant Paula Dellahouse (Kimberly Brooks). Paula is sicken by Russell’s action but for some reason has sympathy for the lout. It seems that at just about every crisis point in Huff’s life his path crosses that of a homeless Hungarian man (Jack Laufer). Huff and the audience are never really sure if this uncharacteristically wise man is actually real or just a figment of Huff’s over anxious mind. If this isn’t enough for Huff to deal with one of his patients, Melody Coatar (Lara Flynn Boyle) becomes infatuated with him to the point that she makes Glenn Close’s role in ‘Fatal Attraction’ seem normal. The woman is the poster child for bi-polar disorder and between suicide attempts starts to extend her madness right into Huff’s home. Each episode ends with Huff recapping the events of the day with his brother Teddy (Andy Comeau). Teddy is institutionalized in a mental hospital, visited only by Huff. While Teddy is largely unaware of what Huff is talking about he is the perfect way for Huff to get things off his chest without being judged. Huff is a man who has dedicated his life to helping and emotionally supporting others but now finds he is adrift in life.
From the first episode this series had me. It has such pathos and emotional honesty that I found myself going from episode to episode completely enthralled by the stories. Writing of this quality is so rare that it would most likely never make it on regular broadcast television. It took a premium cable network like Showtime to have the vision to risk presenting such a series. There are few happy endings here. Like real life Huff has to take winning some little battles to make it possible to face the larger issues. During the course of the first season Beth’s mother discovers she has cancer. Both Beth and Huff flirt with infidelity which places a large strain on their relationship, the one safe haven for Huff. Things get complicated when Russell starts a sexual relationship with Izzy placing Huff once again in the middle of events he cannot control. The use of the Hungarian man is simply brilliant. He is part old sage, part Greek chorus for Huff. He always seems to have the objective world view that helps Huff remain at least somewhat centered. There is a surreal nature to this series that seems so natural. When we look at our own lives isn’t there always a little bit of madness around? The writing, direction and acting has made this series a must watch for me.
Typical of Showtime they searched for and found the best possible cast. They really thought out of the box for the actors they got here. Hank Azaria was just about the last person I would have thought of for a role as complex as Huff. He is best known as the man of a thousand voices providing many of the voices for the animated series ‘The Simpsons’. He also is frequently found supplying the voices for a plethora of animated features and was a regular on ‘Mad About You’ as the somewhat dim dog walker, Nat. this role permits this talented man to really stretch his acting muscles demonstrating a full understanding of what makes people tick. Paget Brewster plays perfectly off of Azaria’s talent creating an amazing chemistry. Even when she threatens their marriage she is able to maintain a sympathetic bond with the audience. In the role of Izzy no actress could bring it to life quite like Blythe Danner. She has a long career of emotional roles and brings a rare quality here. Being the real life mother of actress Gwyneth Paltrow may have given her some unique insights playing a woman whose child has risen to success in their chosen profession. She can combine comedy with drama like few actresses can. Izzy is basically a character that most people would dislike yet Danner makes her into a person that we can understand. Oliver Platt is at his best here doing what he does so well, playing an out of control, self centered individual. Instead of making the character of Russell a one dimensional foil to the kind Huff Platt takes his character through an emotional journey as he tries to change is self destructive life.
This series finds its way to DVD by means of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, now combined with Columbia/Tri-Star. The transfer to DVD is about as good as possible. The video is in 1.78:1 anamorphic giving a clear, crisp picture. The color balance is better than most series on television with natural color saturation. The contrast displays no artifacts. The Dolby 5.1 audio may not give a lot of attention to the rear speakers but it is very good. The rear speakers are typically used for a realistic ambience and the front channel separation is better than average. The three disc set has some really interesting extras. There are three behind the scenes featurettes that go into the details of creating such an imitative series. Several episodes provide commentary tracks where cast and crew muse over the production and what it was like to do such a quirky sleeper hit as this. This is quality television that is targeted to people willing to invest the time and attention to the way the plots are interwoven. If you are tired of the fluff that prevails on TV today get this series and enjoy something done right.